A Brief History of Bush's Time

The current narrative of the Bush Presidency is that it is a failure (believed by 107 of 109 historians surveyed) and that George W. Bush is the worst President in history (believed by 61% of those surveyed historians).  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, "The president already has the mark of the American people -- he's the worst president we ever had."  

That's one narrative.  I have another.

Despite being handed one of the worst situations in history from President Clinton, and being fought tooth and nail by his opponents in government and the media, literally from the day of his election, President George W. Bush persevered to restore prosperity at home and to make the US and the world more free and secure.

The 2000 Election and Transition to Office

On November 7, 2000, voters went to the polls and elected George W. Bush to be President of the United States.  After initially conceding defeat in a private phone call to Bush, Al Gore decided instead to contest the outcome in Florida.  He sued for various recounts and was joined by the Florida Supreme Court, while Bush fought for counting votes per the rules in place prior to the election.

Complaints that Bush "stole" the election boiled down to two: (1) we should use a method of determining the winner other than the one in the Constitution, and (2) we should use a method of determining "voter intent" other than by counting legally cast ballots per the rules in place prior to the election.

Later recounts would show that George W. Bush would have won the election in Florida under any method considered by either Al Gore or the Florida Supreme Court. 

"The Miami Herald and USA Today reported George W. Bush would have widened his 537-vote victory to a 1,665-vote margin if the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court would have been allowed to continue."

Al Gore would not concede in public until December 13, more than a month after the election.  But the Clinton administration denied the Bush team the keys to the transition office set up two blocks from the White House and waiting since November 8, until December 15.  Normally a newly-elected President is provided a transition office the day after the election.  George W. Bush was finally allowed to use his just 36 days before being sworn in as President, or less than half the transition time allowed other Presidents-elect.

The Pre-Bush Situation and His First Eight Months

A year before Bush took office, the stock market peaked and subsequently declined 8% by the end of 2000.  The last four fiscal quarters under President Clinton showed steadily declining GDP growth rates of 4.8, 3.5, 2.4, and 1.9 percent, respectively.  When Bush took office, the US Government was still operating under the fiscal budget signed by President Clinton, and would remain so for more than another eight months.  Within six weeks of Bush being sworn in, the economy was officially in recession.

On the defense front, President Bush was handed a smoldering crisis that had been brewing throughout President Clinton's two terms.

  • The World Trade Center was bombed by Islamists in 1993, killing six and injuring 1,042.
  • We lost 18 US Special Ops forces in Mogadishu while fighting Islamist allies of Osama bin Laden.
  • Osama bin Laden declared war against the U.S. in his fatwa of 1996.
  • The Khobar Towers used to house our servicemen in Saudi Arabia were bombed by Islamists in 1996, killing 19 US servicemen.
  • Our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed in 1998 by bin Laden supported Islamists, killing at least 223 and injuring thousands.
  • Pakistan and India both successfully tested nuclear warheads in 1998, to the surprise of our CIA.
  • The USS Cole was bombed in 2000 by Islamists, killing 17 US sailors.
  • In Israel, the Oslo accords had broken down, the PLO had rejected the most generous "peace for land" deal ever offered, and the intifada was back in business by the end of 2000.
  • Nations pursuing nuclear weapon capability (beyond Pakistan and India, who had it by 1998) were North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq had kicked out the UN weapons inspectors in 1998 and was in defiance of multiple UN resolutions from 1991 through 2000.  Saddam's Iraq had tried to assassinate former President Bush and fired thousands of times at US and coalition forces enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations

Throughout this time, President Clinton's administration forbade communications between the CIA and the FBI regarding terrorists or terrorist activities.  Clinton withdrew US forces from Somalia shortly after the Mogadishu incident.  And he treated the terrorist incidents as crimes to be dealt with by our legal system.

When he did send missiles into Iraq, he made sure it was at night so no one would get hurt.  According to the Washington Post,

"Clinton ordered the attack Friday, but the raid was delayed a day so it would not fall on the Muslim sabbath... The missiles struck late at night -- between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Baghdad time -- because Clinton wished to minimize possible deaths of innocent civilians." 

I'm thinking a strike at 2 am would also minimize possible deaths of guilty Baathists.

On September 11, 2001, or less than eight months after President Bush took office, Islamist terrorists perpetrated the worst attack by foreigners on US soil since the burning of Washington, DC, in 1812, killing almost 3,000 civilians.  The attackers had been planning and preparing it for five years.

That was President Bush's welcome to office. A recession within two months.  The 9/11 attacks within eight months. And an Iraq in continual defiance of its terms of surrender, multiple UN resolutions and WMD inspectors.  And this after being given only half the transition time as usual.

The Following Seven Years

By November 2001 the recession was officially over, just one month under Bush's own budget, weeks after 9/11 and just 10 months into a Bush Presidency.  It was an historically short and shallow recession.  From 2003 through 2006, all under President Bush and a Republican Congress, real GDP grew over 3% per year, considered a healthy and sustainable pace.  By early 2008, the real economy had grown about 20% since Bush took office.  Since President Bush took office, the economy has grown in every single fiscal quarter; there has been no quarter of negative real growth.

Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?  If you are anywhere near average, yes.  Personal, disposable, inflation-adjusted income grew 9% in the first six years under Bush.  Since Bush has been President, the unemployment rate has remained under 6.3% and averaged 5.2%  (In Clinton's eight years it remained under 7.3% and also averaged 5.2%.)

On the foreign front, President Bush used "aggressive diplomacy" to convince Pakistan to support us in fighting against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and to allow us insight into the status of its nuclear weapons.  India, the other new member of the nuclear club, remained on good terms with us throughout.

President Bush, with Congressional support, our NATO allies and our first-rate military, freed the people of Afghanistan from the Taliban warlords, helped install a democracy there, captured or killed hundreds of al Qaida there and drove those remaining, probably including Osama bin Laden and his top commanders, to remote mountains and caves.  By also cutting off funding sources and communications channels, al Qaida appears to have been rendered ineffective as a coordinated network of terrorists under any kind of effective command and control.  It's possible ad hoc "cells" of those sympathetic to al Qaida might still do some damage on US soil, but none have so far.

President Bush, with large and bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, support from more than 45 countries and our first-rate military, freed the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein, helped install a democracy there, and captured or killed hundreds of al Qaida, radical Islamists and other terrorists there.  Saddam's WMD capabilities, programs and remaining weapons were removed from an outlaw regime.  I have written elsewhere on the justification of the Iraq war, which was supported by both pre-war and post-war intelligence.

President Bush, with diplomacy, the example of Iraq and the assistance of foreign allies, convinced Libya to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

President Bush, using diplomacy and working with China, Japan and South Korea, appears to have reached a breakthrough with North Korea, getting it to dismantle its plutonium creating sites and to allow intrusive inspections. While this all needs to be finalized and verified, such progress illustrates President Bush's skill at effective diplomacy - one that has real results, not paper promises quickly broken and never verified.

Iran is still a problem, but even there President Bush is waging diplomacy in concert with our allies and the United Nations.

In short, all the new and major WMD proliferation threats were dealt with one way or another: Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya.  They are not all put to rest, but about three-and-a-half of the five biggies appear to have been dealt with sufficiently.  And terrorists, even those inside Iraq and Afghanistan at this point, seem to be kept at bay for now as well.

I think these are tremendous achievements, and ones that would not have occurred under either a President Gore or President Kerry. 

But what have been the costs?  In dollars, defense spending has gone from 3% of GDP to 4%.  That's it -- a level that is still below where it was for over 50 years, from World War II through 1994.

In US lives, 4,147 servicemen lost their lives due to hostile or non-hostile action in Iraq to date.  Each lost life is a tragedy, and I am deeply grateful to our lost troops and their families.  From 2001 to 2006, the worst year for active military duty deaths was 2005, with 1,941 deaths due to all causes.  In 1980, President Carter's last year, there were 2,392 such deaths in a larger military establishment.  Each year in which we had troops engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan saw fewer US military deaths than any year from 1980 through 1987, all years without major conflicts.  The major conflicts of World War II, Korea and Vietnam had 405,399, 36,574, and 58,209 fatalities, respectively.

Judging A President

"However tempting it might be to some, when much trouble lies ahead, to step aside adroitly and put someone else up to take the blows, I do not intend to take that cowardly course, but, on the contrary, to stand to my post and persevere in accordance with my duty as I see it."

If we use these words of Winston Churchill to judge our presidents, did President Bush "step aside adroitly" or did he stand his post and "persevere"?  He has surely taken the blows.

Randall Hoven can be contacted at randall.hoven@gmail.com or  via his web site, http://www.kulak.worldbreak.com/
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